Got electronics on your lab bench? As in...shakers, vortex mixers, stirrers, heat blocks, centrifuges, microplate readers, water baths...etc, etc. What about a computer and accouterments at your desk? Did you know that all of these devices are drawing electricity, even when they are switched off? Depending on your situation, this type of “phantom electricity” can add up to around 25% of your building's total electric bill!
Luckily there is an easy way to rid your lab of phantom electricity. According to this Plug Load Control report by the U.S.General Services Administration (GSA), a simple 7 day programmable digital timer – is the most effective energy savings strategy for government and commercial buildings. For equipment that tends to be left on overnight and weekends, using the plug-in timer alone reduced monthly kWh usage by 48% on average! These timers are cheap, so the payback period is short – based on the individual equipment’s power load. This report notes the following payback period in office buildings; 0.7 years in kitchens, 1.1 years in printer rooms, and 4.1 years among miscellaneous devices.
Using a 7 day plug in timer is easy and convenient. Simply plug your timer into an outlet and plug your electronics equipment into the timer. Program the timer to your personal work schedule. Some timers can also monitor kWh usage by your equipment. Some can even calculate how much money that piece of equipment is costing you to power - once you input your electricity rate. Granted, in some cases your electricity supplier may be charging you less for off peak hours. Many timers have built in surge protection. All timers have easy access manual overrides. 7 day programmable timers are an easy “set it and forget it” solution to saving energy..
Here are some examples of devices widely available online; 7-day programmable plug in digital timers: P3 International has Save A Watt and Kill A Watt® Electricity Usage Monitor & Timers, the Enover 7-day Programmable Plug-in Digital Timer, Intermatic 15-Amp Heavy Duty Plug-In Digital Timer and the Globe Electric 24201 8 Outlet Power Strip with Digital Timer.
Caveat: for certain pieces of equipment, such as spectrometers and thermal cyclers, you may want to use an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Especially if your area experiences power outages. An energy star certified UPS should be directly plugged into a wall outlet. Surge protection is integrated into the UPS. IF you tried to use a schedule time, when the timer turned the power off, the UPS would go to battery. In these situations, an energy saving timer function may be able to happen on the other end. If the UPS is connected to a computer, that computer performs a function you instruct when the power goes out. The computer system can be programmed to time the power supply to your instrument for energy efficiently. A bit more complex, I know!
Back to the GPA study, interestingly it notes that using “advanced” or “smart” power strips that employ a load-sensing strategy was of limited value. These only make sense in workstations that have unpredictable schedules. Although, I read elsewhere that advanced power strips have been adopted by the US Air force at computer workstations, to save over $500K per year. The GPA study highlights how using timer devices only is the best strategy.
The Green Proving Ground Program by the GSA is a nice, free resource when you're deciding on how to save energy and water in the lab. They publish studies showing how energy and water reducing investment decisions work in the real world. This is important since devices or programs might be designed towards a goal, but how people actually use them shapes the ultimate outcome. I hope that this information is useful to all you labconscious folks.